By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA, the Philippines (AA) - A young Filipino man from the Philippines' biggest organization of Muslim professionals has penned an open letter in which he heaps praise on incoming president Rodrigo Duterte, describing him as the sole candidate in the country's May 9 election to show legitimate affection to southern Muslims.
In the letter published by Philippines media late Monday, Amir Mawallil, 27, a member of the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN), hails Duterte as someone who understands the Moro problem in the country's south, as a citizen of Mindanao with Moro roots.
"These days, many Moro people find inspiration from your boldness. Your seething anger for everything that is wrong in the system represents their own anger, and for this reason, thousands of heads nod when you declared 'I am angry for you,'" said Mawallil, who is director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao's bureau of public information.
"Still a month into your inauguration, change -- 'real change' -- is palpable in the air sweeping through the Moroland," Mawallil wrote.
For hundreds of years, the Moro have been seeking for self rule of mainland Mindanao and its surrounding islands, arguing it is originally a Moro ancestral land ruled by sultanates.
Moros as well as Christians from Mindanao also frequently express their disgust at what they see as as Imperial Manila, claiming governance is centralized by the capital and the government is controlled by politicians from the surrounding area of Luzon.
During his campaign, the tough talking Duterte vowed to "correct the historical injustice committed against the Moro.”
Duterte's mother descended from the Maranaw -- one of the Moro tribes in the south -- and his son is married to a Moro woman from the Tausug tribe of Sulu province.
In his letter, Mawallil recalls that when Duterte was on a campaign sortie in Cotabato City, the seat of the Muslim autonomous government, thousands of Moro welcomed him with a thunderous chorus of "Allahu Akbar" which interrupted his speech for a number of times.
"The massive crowd were on their feet, their fists raised in the air, when you yourself shouted 'Allahu Akbar'. They were ecstatic," Mawallil wrote.
"Never mind if you sounded awkward. Never mind if your voice faltered as you repeated the takbir. It was enough that you were standing in front of a people who saw you as the leader they needed, someone who did not only humbly try to speak their language, but also promised to end their suffering from war, from poverty, from oppression," he said.
Mawallil said for observers, it was an apparent indictment of the failures of the past, and at the same time a statement of protest against the oppressors of Mindanao.
"It is your grit, and whatever that is burning inside you now, that now serves as a beacon of life and hope for many. As a young Moro in Mindanao, I can say that matter-of-factly – having seen how Muslims in Mindanao have been breathing that air filled with optimism over the realization of the promises of a Duterte presidency. One only needs to ask any random Muslim on the streets to confirm this."
A bill (Bangsamoro Basic Law) which proposes to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as part of a peace deal between the government and the country's one-time largest Muslim rebel group and establish a more inclusive Bangsamoro autonomous region stalled in Congress earlier this year, as it adjourned for campaigning for the election.
The peace deal -- the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro -- was signed in 2014 under outgoing President Benigno Aquino III after 17 years of negotiations to end a decades-old armed conflict in southern Mindanao island -- from where Duterte hails.
"Mr. President-elect, you openly expressed full support for the realization of the aspirations of the Moro people," wrote Mawallil.
"You articulated, quite bluntly and painfully, what many of the Moro felt about the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. And Moro hearts melted, Mr President, when you said If I win as president, the Muslims are lucky. Mindanao is lucky."